What I found as a welcome change to Mastodon’s newest album, Crack the Skye and, to a lesser extent, Weezer’s The Red Album was the inclusion of the voices of the other band members, a technique that resulted in each member’s individual style and timbre being used to suit the subtle difference in sound from song to song that I find besets most great albums, to generally positive effect. After listening to Broken Social Scene’s newest album, Forgiveness Rock Record, and the band’s past albums, I have found that this tough but rewarding aesthetic has been a part of the band’s style since they began releasing music.
And so Forgiveness Rock Record benefits from placing a variety of singers at the forefront of their songs, if only so that they can explore a wider variety of musical styles. Brendan Canning’s cracked voice fits the country stylings of “Water in Hell”, wonderfully, even allowing for the light hoedown at the song’s end to be completely genuine. The croon of Leslie Feist in harmony can either add a layer of immediacy in the mode of “Chase Scene” or can subvert the precocious boredom of “Sentimental X”. The distortion on Kevin Drew’s voice adds a component of goofiness to the compelling “Art House Director”. These subtle aspects and how well they support the songs Broken Social Scene create is a testament to how excellent Forgiveness Rock Record is produced. Not only is the exchange of musicians calculated to get the best out of their songs, their performances and aural landscapes are shifted just enough to get their point across efficiently.
The reason Forgiveness Rock Record is rated so low relative to the praise it’s received from me is that, for a significant part of the album, John McEntire’s production gets too involved. Many of Forgiveness’s tracks are too long, and are only that way, because they have an unwanted level of atmosphere, a problem that affects some of Forgiveness’s best tracks, like “World Sick” and “Sweetest Kill”. The problem reaches its apex when the last third of “Ungrateful Father” is spent primping silence with unnecessary ambient textures. In addition to this filler rampant throughout the album, the one-two “meh”-fest of pseudo-instrumental “Highway Slippery Jam” and aforementioned “Ungrateful Father” is a huge chunk of wasted time out an album that has some serious highs to contend with.
What’s good is that nothing about Forgiveness Rock Record is outright insulting. If you think you can handle a couple moments of awkward thumb-twiddling, by all means, get the album. My criticism of it (which, ultimately, does not amount to much) stems from my idea of how this could have been a great instead of just a good album. Anyone familiar with Broken Social Scene knows that the band has and has displayed a penchant for fantastic long-players, but consider this one a letdown only if you hold them at that high esteem.